Crying Here: For a Good Reason

boxes of books!

We interrupt this blog to bring you exciting news!

Hello, book-loving friends!

I have some exciting news to share with you. I feel shy to share it because it is so overwhelming to me. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

I have a friend who chooses to remain anonymous. She has read my books and decided they needed to be in the schools. She made an appointment with the heads of the Washoe County School Libraries, and we met with them. She said she would like to donate a set (of five hardback books) of the Finding Home Series to each elementary school. That’s sixty schools! And, she wanted to buy a classroom set (of thirty books) for each middle school of Snapped and Cracker!

As you can imagine, I was overwhelmed. I do not benefit financially as we bought the books at cost, but I benefit in a much greater way! The hardest part of being an author is trying to figure out how to get your books into the hands of the actual readers they were written for. In my case, writing middle grade fiction and young adult fiction, it’s hard to market to those age groups. The gatekeepers for these books are Librarians, Teachers, and Parents. The fact that three thousand of my books will now be available to students is entirely unreal.

The Librarians have invited me to speak to all the school librarians when they meet in late August and present them with the books at that time. Because Snapped tackles the issue of cyber sexual bullying and Cracker tackles racism, the librarians are also hopeful that I can speak to the social studies teachers, as these issues are part of their curriculum.

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In the meantime, boxes of books are stacked all over my little house, reminding me daily how incredibly blessed I am with good friends. Thank you for your love and support. I couldn’t wait to share this news with all of you.

Spiritual Practices: for the Classroom

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I was asked to translate some spiritual practices into non-spiritual language for classroom settings for a seminar at the Nevada Reading Week Conference. Since our beautiful conference got snowed out, I thought it would be fun to share those here, for you or your teacher friends to try!

Mindfulness in the Classroom, by Jacci Turner

The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect as it relaxes the body by inhibiting or slowing many high energy functions. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Techniques which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system help us feel calmer.

1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.

Ask your students to sit with their feet on the floor and their hands on their desks or in their laps. Have them take several deep breaths, picturing the in-breath as moving all the way down to their toes, and the out-breath as moving all the way to the tops of their heads. This exercise balances and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — which will calm your students. You can do this in two minutes!

Additional ideas: You can ask your students to give the in-breath a color, e.g. blue, and another color to the out-breath. This simple mindfulness technique helps us remain present with our bodies in an easy and relaxed way.

Or, you can have your students picture their negative emotions going out of their bodies with the exhale and the positive emotions coming in with the inhale, e.g. “As you breathe in, picture yourself breathing in strength and courage and as you exhale, picture yourself sending all of your insecurities out of your body.”

1. The Examine:  Have your students sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Have them think back through their day and search for a time when they felt they were their best selves: the truest and best part of who they are. Maybe they were kind to a friend or a pet or did something their parent asked without arguing. This might take a minute, like searching through a backpack for a pencil; you know it’s there, you just have to find it.

Then, when they have found that memory, have them savor that memory using all five senses: touch, taste, feel, sound, and smell. This will anchor the memory to their long-term memory. It takes about 30 seconds to anchor a memory.

Then repeat the exercise looking for a time during the day when they fell short of their best self. Maybe they were short with someone, or got angry unnecessarily. Let that memory land lightly on their hand, like a butterfly. Say to it, “you are a part of me, and next time, I’ll do better.” Then blow on the butterfly and let it fly away. This is not a time to beat ourselves up and we don’t want these memories to stick in our long-term memories — just acknowledge them and let them go.

2. Welcoming: Have your students sit comfortably and ask them to identify any difficult feelings they might be having, such as anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety. Allow them to let themselves welcome that feeling and really feel it. Where do they feel it in their body? Is it in their stomach? Their brain? Their back? Ask them to tell the feeling “I know you are a part of me and I welcome you.” Then let them just sit with the feeling for a few moments. Then, have them say to the feeling, “Right now, I need to get back to my day, so please take a back seat; you are allowed to be here, but not allowed to drive. It’s okay if you stay with me, but you cannot be in control because I am in control. If it’s important we can talk more later.” Then, take a deep breath and let that feeling go.

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3. Walking and breathing: First, have the students practice breathing in slowly through their noses and out slowly through their mouths. Then challenge them to make their exhale one second longer than their inhale. Have them walk and count their steps as they inhale: one, two, three, four. Then have them try to exhale one more step: one, two, three, four, five. However, many inhale steps they can take, they are to try to add one more exhale step. They can do this around the classroom or on the playground, concentrating on their breath. Again, this balances the parasympathetic nervous system.

4. Body Listening: Have the students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Have them take an internal scan of their bodies. If there is a part of their body that draws their attention, have them focus on that part and try to see what is happening. Ask, “What is that part trying to tell you? It might be saying that you’re hungry, or tired, or you need to go to the bathroom or that you’ve injured yourself in some way. It could be saying something metaphysical. Tell your body you are listening and you will take care of its need ASAP.”

5. Breath Affirmation: Chose a name for yourself that is positive and that you would like to be called. Maybe it’s a name someone you love calls you like, “sweetheart” or “honey,” or a nickname you like. Then think of something you need when you are anxious. A word like “breathe,” or “calm,” or “relax.” Then, put the two together and think the first one on the inhale: “Sweetheart,” and the second one on the exhale: “Breathe” Use this reminder silently during stressful situations: “Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale) Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale)…”

6. Reading: Reading to a child is one of the simplest ways to calm them and help them stay present.

 

Jacci Turner is an Amazon bestselling author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. Her MG book, Bending Willow represented Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. That book is the first book in, The Finding Home Series, and Jacci recently released the fifth book in the series, Willow’s Roundup. The series will soon be coming out in hardback for Libraries and Schools. You can find it and all of Jacci’s books on Amazon and other online outlets. Jacci is on most social media outlets or you can find her on her website at Jacciturner.com and her blog on Spiritual Practices at https://jacciturner.wordpress.com. She enjoys speaking in schools. As a former school counselor, she loves children very much.

These photos link to some great websites for mindfulness in the classroom.

Small kids pic

Bigger kids pic

Spiritual Practice: Hospitality

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Well, I failed miserably with the fasting practice I chose for the last two weeks; I just completely forgot about it. I guess that happens sometimes, life encroaches and then there was Harry Potter World, and butter bear, and the beach… but, anyway, it’s all about grace, right?

This week I wanted to talk about the spiritual practice of Hospitality. It’s funny, I used to be really into those, “spiritual gift tests,” and when I took them, the gift of hospitality never came up for me. Still, it has always been a value of our family’s, and very much modeled by Jesus, whom we follow. He talked and modeled welcoming children, the marginalized and he told many a parable about the importance of hospitality.

Once I asked my adult children what was the most memorable thing about growing up in our household and how our faith had impacted them. They both talked about the people we invited in: the pregnant teens that lived with us, the international students who came for all the holidays, the exchange students we adopted. These were memories they cherished and values they wanted to continue.

You can see why moving from a 2200 square foot house with a large dining room and two-family rooms, to a 1200 square foot house with no dining room and one small living room led to some mourning on my part. It changed the way we do hospitality. We’ve had to scale down. My daughter now hosts the large gatherings we love and we have smaller groups of friends over. But, hospitality is not all about food and parties.

I’m again struck by the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32. In Nouwen’s book by that title, he talks about the father’s welcome of the son, saying that the father, welcomed without question and blessed without condition. Isn’t that a fantastic definition of hospitality? The son had taken the father’s money and gone off to squander it on wild living. But, when he came home the father didn’t ask one question about any of that. I would have wanted at least an ounce of blood and a tearful confession. The father just welcomed him home and threw a party. He blessed him as a son and gave him the full benefit of that blessing as if nothing had ever happened; it was completely unconditional! I would have been all, “You can come home but you’d better shape up mister! “

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What would the world look like if we went about welcoming people without question and blessing them without conditions? We would be hospitality, not just do hospitality. And the world would be a kinder, gentler place. That’s what I’m going to try for the next two weeks. Hopefully, I’ll do better this time! Want to join me?

For more spiritual practices check out my book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.

Photo Credit: Christ the Redeemer,  

Prodigal Son Blog

Spiritual Practices: Spiritual Direction

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Hello and welcome to my bi-monthly blog on spiritual practices*. Last time my wonderful spiritual director guest blogged about Centering Prayer because it was not a practice I had tried consistently. I must say, it wasn’t easy for me these last two weeks. Some days were easier than others. Some days it was an exercise in frustration. How did it go for you? The verdict is still out for me, but so many of my friends love this discipline that I will keep trying.

Today I thought it would be wise to talk about Spiritual Direction as I often mention my own spiritual director as the source of wisdom in my journey. I am also a certified spiritual director and a certified supervisor of spiritual directors; but I still remember about ten years ago, someone asked if I was a spiritual director and I had no idea what they were talking about — so let me explain.

A spiritual director, also known as a spiritual companion, is someone who comes alongside you in your spiritual journey. They are not a therapist or a life-coach. Usually, they meet with you once a month for only an hour, and usually, they receive a fee, typically about $40-$100. 

Path splits two directions, fork in the road

Maybe the best way to describe the discipline is to paint the picture of a spiritual direction appointment; so, join me in my prayer room if you will. You would be welcomed into my cozy prayer room, seated across from me in a comfortable chair, and we might chat a bit about how you are. Then, I’d ask if you’re ready for me to light the candle. If you said yes, I’d light a candle and say something like, “This candle reminds us that we are in the presence of the holy.”

You see, the role of a director is to set the table for you in the presence of the holy one. This is a conversation between three people. Then I might say, “How would you like to start? Shall we breathe for a moment, while you collect your thoughts? Take your time and start whenever you are ready.

Then the session starts. You would talk about whatever is front-of-mind and I will listen, ask occasional questions to help you notice themes, or go deeper into a subject that seems important. An example of a good question might be, “Where do you see God in this?”

At the end of our time together, I’ll ask you how you’d like to close: In silence? Would you like to pray? Would you like me to pray for you?” And then we’d set up our next meeting.

Spiritual Direction can be a wonderful spiritual discipline to receive when you are finding the old ways of prayer aren’t really working for you as well, or perhaps when you are in a difficult life transition, or you just want to go deeper in your relationship with God. Directors can be found in your area through the website, Spiritual Directors International but remember you should interview several to find one that truly fits for you.

Does Spiritual Direction sound like something you’d like to try? Let me know and I’ll try to help you find a director in your area.

*This blog series is leading up to the release of my latest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening. It is available now!

Photo credit chairs

Photo credit paths

Spiritual Practice: Living with Intention

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Review: Last week we talked about breath prayers. Did you try it? It’s such a lovely, easy way to bring prayer into your day, isn’t it?

Today I want to talk about Living with Intention.

Every time I go to yoga, my instructor starts a session by asking us to choose an “Intention” for our practice. The first time I went, that was a new idea for me, but I’ve found that it helps to have something to go back to when my mind wanders or when the pose is hard to hold. Sometimes this intention sets the mood for my day or even my week.

About a decade ago, I started picking an intention for each new year. This would be a word, a phrase, or a scripture, to sort of “pray into” for the year.

For example, when my kids were younger I remember picking the phrase, “People are not an interruption” – two years in a row! I really needed help remembering that.

When I was going through a particularly hard time, and the voices coming at me were overwhelming, I chose the image of living with blinders on. The idea was to keep my eyes on Jesus and what I believed he was calling me to do, instead of being distracted by all the negative things coming my way.

How do you find an intention? Well, first you need to set aside some time to reflect on last year and sort of brainstorm about this year. Recently, a friend of mine wrote a blog with some great questions to help this process. I encourage you to click on her blog to see the questions! I took her questions on a recent silent retreat and journaled through them.

Then finally, I came to a word that kept surfacing as I answered these questions and spoke to my spiritual director about them. The word was contentment. This year my husband is retiring. That will be very new for us and will come with a large loss of income. There is a verse in Philippians that I have always loved; it says in 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I feel content in my life right now. I like my job, I like my church, I like my life. As we begin a new chapter, I want to stay in the place of contentment.

Well, that’s my intention for the year. I’d love to hear yours!

*This book is fiction but came out of my time at the Grounding Retreat. In anticipation of its release, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. As I said above, every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice; we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Photo Credit

Spiritual Practice: Praying a Labyrinth

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Review: Wow, look how far we’ve come already! We’ve done The Examen, Silence and Solitude, Body Listening and Lectio Divina. I’m really enjoying using Jan Johnson’s book Meeting God in Scripture: A Hands-On Guide to Lectio Divina. Let me know if you practiced Lectio and how it went.

Today let’s talk about Praying a Labyrinth. This is a fun one and it’s quite profound. A labyrinth is not a maze where you can get lost, but it kind of looks like one. Labyrinths come in different configurations and can be found in interesting places. They are often found at spiritual retreat centers, and some churches have them, some churches even have portable roll-out Labyrinths.

But here’s the fun part: try googling “labyrinths near me.” Once I was walking in the desert and found a HUGE labyrinth. I have since visited it many times. Someone took the time to create and maintain it. Amazing. One of our local parks has a beautiful labyrinth. The most interesting place I’ve seen a labyrinth is under a freeway overpass!

So, when you find one, how do you pray it? Well, there are as many ways as there are people. You have to try a few ways and see what works for you. I will often pray out all the things that are bothering me as I wind my way toward the center of the labyrinth. When you get to the center, which takes a while, so don’t rush it, there is a God space. I think of it as the goal, or center, a place of unity with the divine. I like to try and leave my worries there. Then, on the way out, I think of all I have to be grateful for, for there are many things. This makes me a different person with a new perspective when I leave my burdens in the hands of someone bigger than me, and with gratefulness on my tongue.

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You can even walk a labyrinth with friends!

Here are some other ways to pray a labyrinth adapted by Lana Miller from Soul Shaper by Tony Jones. 

1. Ask God a question upon entering and then listen for an answer.  For example:  Ask God what he wants to tell you and listen for an answer.

2. Pray for yourself on the way in, stop to experience God’s love in the center, and pray for others on the way out (or vice versa).

3. Recite the Lord’s Prayer as you walk.  (Instead, you may recite some familiar prayer or scripture.  Repeat it as you walk.)

The interesting thing about walking a labyrinth is that just when you think you are getting closer to God, you move away. Isn’t that just like life? It’s a journey, a metaphor, a pilgrimage on the road less traveled.

Now, you try it. Track down a labyrinth near you and take a walk. Let me know what you think! Enjoy.

Spiritual Practice: Silence and Solitude

 

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As you may know, my newest book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, is out on Harper Legend. In light of that, I invite you to join me on a journey of spiritual awakening as we try different spiritual practices together. Every two weeks, I will blog about a different spiritual practice, we can try it together and discuss how it is or isn’t working for you! Ready, set, GO!

Review of the Examen: This discipline had a surprising effect on me. As I reviewed the places I’d seen God at the end of the day, I started noticing those places more during the day. How was it for you?

Silence and Solitude

This is one of my favorite spiritual practices. I used to take college students to a week-long camp on Catalina Island to practice different forms of prayer. The one they were most terrified of was 12-hours of silence. This was also the one they ended up loving and learning from the most.

It’s counter-cultural to be silent and alone. People (including me) are so tied to our phones that we stay instantly connected, to technology and to each other. But getting away, and practicing silence is a powerful experience.

I love the analogy of a cloudy jar full of river water. If you let the jar sit for an hour, the sediment will settle to the bottom and the water will become clear. So it is with our mind, body, and soul. If we allow ourselves to be quiet, even or an hour, we will be able to see things more clearly, hear better, and make better decisions about our lives.

The Quakers understand this. For one hour each week, traditional Quakers sit together in silence. They are listening for God to speak. If they hear God they ask themselves two questions: Is this word for me alone, or is it to share? I’ve been to a Quaker meeting where no one shared for the entire hour. Sitting together in silence is a powerful thing. Is there a Quaker meeting in your town? Maybe you could visit. I only went twice but they were very welcoming.

Silence and Solitude (being alone) is even harder. I’ve never met a generation so afraid of solitude. My granddaughter does her chores while FaceTimeing a friend. There is a lot of fear of being alone. One student, during our Day of Silence, hated the experience as being alone meant he had to face himself; he didn’t like what he saw, but eventually, this lead to some deep healing.

So here is my challenge: Take some time away, by yourself and turn off your phone. Drive to somewhere beautiful, sit by a tree or look at a lake. Let your spirit settle and listen for God. You may not hear a voice, but God can speak in many ways. One student, who had just about finished the day, and was feeling like a failure for not hearing anything, went and stood out on some rocks that jutted out into the ocean. He threw up a challenge, “Okay God if you’re gonna speak, I’m here.” Then two huge pelicans flew down and rested on either side of him. This was very unusual for the shy birds. As he stared in wonder at the birds, dolphins started doing aerial acrobatics in front of him. He was awed and humbled.

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God will not always be so dramatic, but if we listen, he will speak to us in some way.

If silence is already a discipline of yours, try taking it to the next level. Book a room at a retreat center for a 24-hour silent retreat. I try to do this monthly and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to it. It’s like pushing the reset button on my psyche.

If 24 hours feels daunting, you can go on a guided retreat; most Catholic retreat centers offer them. Or you can try breaking the time into hours; every hour try something different: Take a walk, sing, take a holy nap, read, draw, eat, journal, be creative.

I’d love to hear back about how your silence and solitude day goes. Or let me know in advance if you’re going to give it a try so I can pray for you. Have fun!

 

 

Photo Credit:  dolphins